My brothers were 17 and 11 years old when I was born. I was pretty lonely as a child whenever I wasn’t at school or at a friend’s house so I always hoped if I had more than one child they’d be close together.
I wanted a sibling for Francis as soon as he was born, and the desire only grew as the months passed. And yet when I found out I was pregnant again, I was filled with hesitation. Looking after one baby was hard enough.
Once Louie was born, I became anxious about Francis being too little to share his mum. I worried he wasn’t getting the attention he needed, and that his peers were getting. I watched other mums calmly chatting to their toddler, and I felt guilty as I struggled with my fussing baby and gave Francis cake to stop him from whinging that I was not able to focus on him. I’d feel worse that when the baby slept, I was so exhausted all I could do was be awake and make sure Francis didn’t hurt himself. Sometimes I’d even fail at that. I started thinking I should go back to work. I was harming my children - well rested professionals would do a better job of caring for and educating them. And then maybe I would feel better too.
I spoke to my husband and we decided on a compromise. Francis would go to daycare for three hours every weekday. I felt I had failed at everything. I wasn’t a full time mum, but I didn’t have a job either.
But from the moment Louie was born, there have been moments every day where my heart has soared with joy at the sight of the two of them side by side. The promise of a bond to come. The hope that they would have a companion for life in each other.
These moments have only grown in frequency and intensity as time has passed and I have adjusted to the demands of my new role as mother of two. Often that adjustment means making my life easier. Finding a good daycare. Putting the Night Garden on. Not cleaning the house as much as it needs. Cooking frozen food. Asking my husband for even more help. Falling asleep with the children instead of relaxing with a glass of wine. Having a glass of wine instead of ironing. These adjustments, that once felt like failures, now feel like triumphs. I’m triumphing over my own limited view of what a good mother looks and acts like, and in doing that I’m creating space for joy.
Louie has, mysteriously, always found Francis very funny - in spite of being an otherwise pretty serious baby. Francis will put his finger in Louie’s mouth - his favourite ‘joke’ - and before I can stressfully tell him to be gentler, Louie is laughing his head off and trying to put his own finger in his brother’s house. I watch them laughing uncontrollably and feel so grateful that they have one another. In order to feel this gratitude, I need to be present and awake and conscious to experience it. That takes work.
Having two babies close together has been a lesson for me. A lesson in letting go of control. A lesson in realising that whatever you envision your family to look like is going to involve a struggle, and it’s going to demand flexibility. There will be unforeseen challenges along the way. Some of them may force you to change the picture a little. But it’s not going to change beyond recognition. It’s not being downgraded for a lesser picture. It’s becoming the work of art it’s intended to be. And the real moments of joy it brings will be fuller, clearer and better than they could ever be in that image in your head.